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October 15, 2021

Anti-hunting Activists Still Blame Hunters for Condor Deaths

By Larry Keane

California banned the use of traditional ammunition statewide in 2019, but anti-hunting activists continue to blame traditional ammunition made with lead components for the deaths of the scavengers.

Mike Stake, a wildlife biologist with the Ventana Wildlife Society in California, told KCBX that of the 13 deaths of California condors in 2020, nine were attributed to lead poisoning. Anti-hunting activists have long blamed traditional ammunition for the condor deaths. They theorize that these scavengers would feed on animal carcasses or even gut piles left behind by hunters ingesting lead fragments from hunters’ ammunition as the source of lead poisoning.

That caused California lawmakers to pass a law in 2013 that began a phased traditional ammunition ban for all hunting in California. The ban was fully implemented statewide by July 1, 2019.

For two years, no hunters have been allowed to use anything but more expensive alternative ammunition. California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife reported 98.89% hunter compliance with the regulation. If hunters aren’t using traditional ammunition, how do anti-hunting activists still blame traditional ammunition for lead poisoning in California condors?

Are Hunters to Blame?

Ventana Wildlife Society didn’t study why condors are still getting sick from lead, despite it being banned for hunting. Instead, they speculate. Without proof, Stake told KCBX that hunters must be skirting the rules since ammunition is in high demand these days.

“But the law does permit the sale and purchase of lead ammunition because it’s still legal to use in target ranges where wildlife is not the target,” KCBX reported. That’s right. They are now saying condors must be consuming lead from hunters who break the law, even though California authorities say this isn’t the case, or condors are eating lead out of the berms and fields of gun ranges.

That’s a stretch unsupported by any science, but not one that anti-hunting and anti-gun activists haven’t already made. The original data upon which California based the law to ban traditional ammunition for hunting is suspect. Hunt for Truth Association pored over the reports submitted to California lawmakers and found those reports were deeply biased. The condor population did crash, but it wasn’t due to hunters using traditional ammunition. A combination of habitat destruction and “use of DDT, other organochlorine pesticides, and certain rodenticides throughout the remaining condor habitat in Central and Southern California had serious and significant impacts on condor populations.”

The group’s research looked directly at data regarding condor consumption of lead. It found that it wasn’t as easy as singling out lead fragments from animal carcasses leftover by hunters.

Questioning Data

“While some researchers maintain that lead ammunition from gut piles or game carrion left in the field by hunters is the primary source of lead exposure to condors, there is compelling evidence of alternative sources of lead in the environment,” Hunt for Truth reported. “Such alternative sources of lead include paint chips from old buildings, legacy leaded gasoline in soils, mining wastes, old insecticides and microtrash.”

Two condors that were studied were actually observed eating paint chips from a fire lookout tower. Those condors were later observed regurgitating those paint fragments to feed their chicks.

“Rarely, if ever, has an actual projectile fragment been found in the digestive tract of a California condor,” the report continued. “However, objects that were thought to be projectile fragments were subsequently found to be pieces of gravel or a ‘woody’ substance, not from ammunition.”

Hunt for Truth didn’t pull punches on questioning the studies.

“Hunt for Truth has discovered that many of these researchers ‘cherry-picked’ this information, deleting it and often refusing to present the underlying information to scientific peer review, policymakers and the public at large. This activity by the researchers calls their very claims and conclusions into serious question,” the group stated in the report. Information about condor deaths was intentionally suppressed by the Obama-era U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and not provided to California legislators when they were considering expanding the ban statewide because it did not support the narrative that hunters were to blame.

Still, falsely blaming hunters for using traditional ammunition two years after the ban was in effect even after California authorities conclude hunters are complying isn’t just bad form. It’s bad science. Making unsubstantiated claims based on hearsay is antithetical to setting science-based policies.

California hunters stopped using traditional ammunition two years ago. If condors are still getting sick from poisoning, it’s not because carcasses have been lying in the wild for over two years. Something else is going on and it’s time anti-hunting activists come clean on their agenda.

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